I have worked in the charity sector for three years now, and have attended countless multi-million pound conferences. I understand the benefits of bringing important stakeholders in a room together to hear about each other's work, form synergies and make monotonous presentations to justify the money they are spending. I am not certain whether lavish buffets where tons of food gets wasted, 5-star hotels or first class flights are so essential towards coming to concrete action though. I just wish people would stop talking and start doing!
I am an activist and filmmaker, and along with Awais Ali, our film Inspire won multiple awards at film festivals including the Plural+ Competition, the Insight Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. The film explored issues of diversity, social exclusion and migration in London, advocating for a stronger message of tolerance, humanity and positivity among the citizens of the most diverse city in the world. It is refreshing how democratized the art of filmmaking has become, where young people like myself can make the points that we want in a creative way, and chuck it online for the whole world to see.
There are almost 60 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin. There may be groups of people who flee their country because they simply want to raise their children in environments where they have access to education, opportunities and healthcare - basic rights that should surely not be denied to someone simply because they were born in the 'wrong place at the wrong time'. Often we speak of the 'good migrants' and 'bad migrants'. The good migrants are those elites who come to our fanciest universities, do our fanciest jobs, and make our companies lots of money. The 'bad migrants' are those that 'scrounge off society' burning through our taxpayers benefits, keep having children and are audacious enough not to learn the language of the country; but we are in a world where the newly elected mayor of one of the most vibrant diverse cities in the world is a Muslim Pakistani son of an immigrant bus driver. Often 'bad migrants' who have had to leave everything behind to enter a foreign land are those that emphasise the importance of education most to their children. Are we forgetting the impact that can be had when children are given opportunities to flourish, who may not have had these opportunities in their home countries? Are we forgetting how many migrants came to the UK and Europe out of a dire need for labour after the World War? Are we forgetting that places like the US are entirely built off immigrants, and thus banning any one group from coming to America goes against the very fabric upon which it was built?
We are in a time where we need to be truly celebrating diversity. Excessive nationalism, extreme fanaticism and power politics have always and will always be a threat to true diversity. Yet, the technological progress that globalization and a free flow of migrants has brought the world has been the greatest in history. It has never been easier to share ideas, thoughts, food and culture with 'the other' and this is something we need to revel in. Tolerance, compassion and respect are the foundations on which we can thrive. I wish to raise my kids in a society where their unique insights and contributions as a British Pakistani Muslim are celebrated, and where we can develop as individuals and as a society simply by knowing each other. Let us not let fear-mongering tactics and political point-scoring sway us from our true humanity. It reminds me of one of my favourite verses from the Islamic scripture, the Qur'an.
"O Mankind! We have created you from male and female and made you tribes and nations so you may get to know one another." [49:13]
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of two critical conferences at the UN on the Refugee and Migrant crisis: the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants (Sept. 19th, a UN conference) and the Leaders Summit on Refugees (Sept. 20th, hosted by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, at the UN). To see all the posts in the series, visit here. To follow the conversation on Twitter, see #UN4RefugeesMigrants.